September 16,2020

Grassley Calls Out Democrat Disinformation on the Social Security System

Prepared Floor Remarks by U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa

Chairman, Senate Finance Committee

Wednesday, September 16, 2020



We have recently seen yet another manufactured crisis from Democrats.


As usual during an election season, if there aren’t any real issues regarding Social Security, Democrats make one up to scare people into believing that some people want to destroy the program


We saw it in the last presidential election where Secretary Clinton didn’t have a basis to attack then-candidate Trump on Social Security, since Trump wants to protect the program.


Lacking any real ammunition, Clinton’s allies in the Senate decided to manufacture a crisis. 


At that time, three prominent Democratic Senators conjured up false claims about a nominee for the position of public trustee of Social Security and Medicare trust funds.


That nominee was a Republican who was nominated for another term by President Obama.


The false claims, published in the Huffington Post, were that the nominee was a Koch-brothers funded individual, because he worked at an educational institution that had received grants from the Koch foundation.


And, the Democrats claimed that this single individual somehow duped all the other trustees, including Obama administration officials, into buying off on assumptions that would lead to an overstatement of the financial challenges facing Social Security.


This, according to the three Democrat Senators, was so bad that the Chief Actuary of Social Security felt compelled to write special notes to trustee reports identifying how shocking the assumptions were.


Of course, that would have meant that one single public trustee, who happened to be Republican, was able to dupe Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez and the Democrat public trustee. 


If you bought into the Democrats’ allegations at the time, it would have meant that all those Obama officials were duped and too inept to see what was going on, and only the Chief Actuary could see the light.


Well, the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee at the time investigated those allegations, and showed that they were flat-out lies.  Even the Washington Post identified the lies in an op-ed titled “The Showdown Democrats Don’t Need to Have.”


The Post concluded that the ultimate victim of what they called “petty politicization” will be “the perceived nonpartisanship and objectivity of key government reports – that is, the very values Senate Democrats claim to be upholding.”


Democrats used their misinformation campaign to run a smear job on a very qualified and well-respected nominee.


They also used it to run ads against anyone who voted in favor of that nominee, including ads against me in my most recent reelection.


Unfortunately, even though Social Security’s Chief Actuary was clearly implicated in the Democrat lies, he remained silent, as then-Chairman Hatch and even the Washington Post identified how ridiculous and false the Democrats’ claims were. 


The Chief Actuary’s position, apparently, is that even if his office is being implicated to support clearly false and very public claims during an election season, he’ll just sit quiet and let it go.


Well, here we are in another presidential election season and, like clockwork, we are getting another round of misinformation from the Democrat candidate and his supporters in the Senate.


Here’s how the Washington Post’s fact checker labels the current scheme, in a headline that says “Biden campaign attacks a Trump Social Security ‘plan’ that doesn’t exist.”


This time around, the misinformation stems from a letter written to Social Security’s Chief Actuary by four Democrat Senators, including the minority leader, the ranking member of the Finance Committee and Senator Sanders who has been counseling former Vice President Biden.


In the letter, the Democratic Senators ask the Chief Actuary to analyze “hypothetical legislation,” which they say even they wouldn’t support, to eliminate payroll taxes.


Of course, those Senators could easily find the information they were seeking by looking at the latest Social Security trustees report. Instead, for purely political reasons, they wanted to draw in the Chief Actuary.


And, the Chief Actuary at Social Security seems to gladly have played along and wrote a response.


He said that his office was not aware that anyone had proposed the hypothetical legislation.


Nonetheless, he identified that, without payroll tax revenue and no replacement from the general fund, the trust funds would run out of money pretty quickly.


That is obvious to anyone with even a slight knowledge of the programs.


But information was not the aim of the Democrat Senators’ letter.  Instead, it was to put forward a silly hypothetical case that doesn’t correspond to anything that anyone has or is proposing, and attribute it to the President.


They used the Chief Actuary’s response to claim that authoritative sources have shown that President Trump has a plan to essentially defund Social Security.


And, in due course, they engaged the cottage industry of groups that exists in Washington who regularly scare seniors and the disabled, especially before elections, about some sort of “back door” plan or “Trojan horse” effort to destroy Social Security.


And, the Democrat Senators used the Chief Actuary’s response to feed the Biden campaign with a false talking point about Social Security. 


The Biden campaign ran ads stating, among other mistruths, that “If Trump gets his way, Social Security benefits will run out in just three years from now.”


Even the Washington Post’s fact checker gave those ads four Pinocchios, meaning that they contain a whopper of a lie. 


The fact checker also concluded that “To make a long story short, Democrats ginned up a letter from the chief actuary to describe a plan that does not currently exist.”


In a follow-up letter that ranking member Kevin Brady of the House Ways and Means Committee and I wrote to Social Security’s chief actuary, we expressed our concerns about the Democrats once again using his office for political purposes.


From his response, we learned a few things.


First, we got confirmation that no one has a plan to defund Social Security, including the President. That confirms that the Democrats’ letter was just plain silly and pure politics.


Second, we got confirmation that the Democrat Senators during the 2016 election published lies in a Huffington Post article invoking the chief actuary in an effort to smear a trustee nominee.


Third, we learned that Social Security’s chief actuary feels compelled to respond to any hypothetical posed to him by any Senator, independent of how silly or blatantly political it may be. 


With that latter lesson, it would be easy for a Republican Senator to ask the chief actuary to analyze hypotheticals corresponding to allegations made by Senator Sanders, one of the authors of the letter concerning the “hypothetical legislation,” about Vice President Biden’s history on Social Security.


Senator Sanders has run political ads characterizing Biden’s record on Social Security, saying that Biden’s claims that he has always protected Social Security are “patently false.”


It wouldn’t be hard to send a hypothetical in for analysis by the Social Security’s chief actuary to get an answer to reinforce Senator Sanders’ view that former Vice President Biden has not acted to protect Social Security.


It wouldn’t be hard to send a letter to the chief actuary asking about how Senator Sanders’ plan to reform Social Security, which Senator Harris has co-sponsored, would harm the middle class by raising payroll taxes, with no corresponding Social Security benefit, on people with incomes below Biden’s $400,000 threshold for defining who is rich and who is not. 


It certainly wouldn’t be hard to construct politically charged hypothetical legislation and ask the chief actuary about it in order to make political points and use the actuary’s position for political purposes.


In my view, though, that is not a proper use of Social Security taxpayer resources, in the same way that the Democrats are wasting resources using of the chief actuary for political purposes. 


Democrats should stop wasting Social Security’s resources trying to construct false and misleading political points to use in elections to feed to their political base and dark-money groups who then use the points in social media and attack ads against Republicans. They should stop politicizing Social Security’s actuaries and the Social Security trustee positions in their transparent attempts to mislead the public and try to score political points about Social Security.


And, the American public should, especially during even years in the run-up to elections, turn a deaf ear to the scare tactics that Democrats continue to use on Social Security beneficiaries.


As well, reporters should be more responsible when reporting on these political shenanigans, though I will note that even the most recent ploy was at least called out by fact checkers and given four Pinocchios. 


Rather than acting like demagogues on Social Security, we should do what we can to improve its programs.


Social Security trustees across administrations have consistently recommended addressing the projected trust fund shortfalls, since projected benefits will continue to outpace revenues. 


So, some sort of reform is inevitable. 


But outside of broad reforms, there are many programmatic improvements that can help make the programs work better for beneficiaries and today’s workers.


While not as encompassing as broad reforms, there are plenty of areas that we and Social Security Commissioner Saul continue to monitor and work on to reduce backlogs and improve service.


Just recently, for example, the Senate passed by unanimous consent the Improving Social Security’s Service to Victims of Identity Theft Act that I sponsored with Senator Sinema. 


This bipartisan effort will help people who fall victims of identity theft by providing improved service from Social Security with a single point of contact. 


In my view, more bipartisan work to improve the programs is the way to go.


Partisan attacks to scare beneficiaries into believing that people are out to destroy people’s retirement and disability benefits do nothing to help working, disabled and retired Americans.